By Kenneth Jones
08 Jun 2009
Tony Award winner Rob Ashford (Thoroughly Modern Millie) directed the reading of the new show based on the romantic tear-jerker film about imagination, storytelling, theatre and James M. Barrie's attachment to four young boys whose mother is ill. Christian Borle (Legally Blonde) played writer Barrie, as he did in the earlier December 2008 reading.
At turns fantastical, bleak and hopeful, the 2004 Oscar-nominated film about how Scottish author Barrie came to write "Peter Pan" has its roots in Allan Knee's 1990 play, The Man Who Was Peter Pan.
As previously reported on Playbill.com, the musical has a book by Knee and a score by Tony Award nominees Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics).
The June 2009 casting also included Stephanie Youell Binetti, Paula Leggett Chase, David Costabile, Brian D'Addario, Michael D'Addario, Mara Davi, Dalton Harrod, Sean Martin Hingston, Richard Kind, Marc Kudisch Daniel Marconi, Michael X. Martin, Martin Moran, Kelli O'Hara, Jill Paice, Mary Beth Peil and Stephen Plunkett.
The earlier play and movie focus on "Peter Pan" creator James M. Barrie and his fixation on the widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (played by Kelli O'Hara for this recent reading) and her four boys, who helped inspire the classic tale of the boy who wouldn't grow up.
Frankel and Korie earned a 2007 Tony nomination for their score to Grey Gardens. Their latest musical, Happiness, with collaborators Susan Stroman and John Weidman, ended June 7 at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi Newhouse Theater.
Knee is librettist of the 2005 Broadway musical Little Women, which toured and is now a licensable regional property, and the popular play Syncopation and The Jazz Age, about Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre.
The Man Who Was Peter Pan was lauded by critics when it played an Off-Off-Broadway showcase run in 1998. The play caught the eye and ear of Miramax and its producer Harvey Weinstein, who bought the rights to turn it into a movie. Knee wrote two drafts of a screenplay for "Finding Neverland," but Miramax opted to used screenwriter David Magee instead.
Those who thought the movie would be a family-friendly picture about the making of Peter Pan were surprised to find themselves watching a three-hankie weeper that embraced the idea that art and theatre are powerful forces in a miserable world. It's also about the making of Peter Pan.
Following the success of the picture (which starred Johnny Depp as Scottish playwright-novelist J.M. Barrie), Weinstein invited Knee to write a draft of a musical libretto with no restrictions about cast size or approach, except that no one — Knee included — wanted a word-for-word version of the earlier play or screenplay.
"The soul of the movie is adaptable but it really has to be about reinventing the movie and the play into a new experience," Knee previously told Playbill.com.
In writing the libretto, Knee did more research than he did when he wrote the source play more than a decade ago.